I am always a little suspicious when esteemed members of our Parliament pass historic laws so that women can get going.
Why the sudden concern for women? Why would the Indian Parliament, with its karmic tendency to have not more than 10-12 per cent women (half the global average), even bother?
Who doesn't remember the ugly debates and heated resistance from male parliamentarians, when the 33 per cent proposal of reservation for women was mooted? That Bill is still pending.
Hence, the news that the Rajya Sabha has passed the Maternity Benefit (Amendment) Bill to increase maternity leave for working women in India - from 12 weeks to 26 weeks - left me cold.
Of course, generous maternity leave is essential for a mother and child's health and well-being. And such laws do bring more mothers back to the office.
|Today, the number of women graduates in India has gone up by 116 per cent, but they make just 27 per cent of the workforce.|
But, I fear, a law like this may just go against women.
I belong to that generation of women who entered the world of work in the 1990s, buoyed up by a confident economy and changing attitudes.
Between 1990 and 2005, International Labour Organization data shows that participation of women in Indian workforce rose from 35 per cent to 37 per cent.
Over the last ten years, my work associates have become overwhelmingly male.
Not that women have disappeared: my office is full of bright young things. But I just hope they will continue to be there - bright but not-so-young.
In the last decade, although Indian women got more educated, they have also been dropping off the work list like flies.
Today, the number of women graduates in India has gone up by 116 per cent, but they make just 27 per cent of the workforce: a drop of 10 per cent in 10 years.
What has all this to do with maternity leave?
Something called human capital depreciation.
Economists are measuring "human capital depreciation rates" during career interruptions due to family reasons.
And they say, women who take a long time off to take care of a new baby, could lose out on job skills, network, experience and promotion.
Studies in European countries report a "motherhood wage gap": that, on an average, mothers once they return, receive lower wages and their job profiles also become less important.
The effect can continue for years, making the glass ceiling thicker: women who are demoted or made redundant, career complications arising out of the assumption that their priorities are elsewhere.
The flavour of the moment is "daddy months": a policy to get new fathers to take paternity leaves. Countries like Norway and Sweden are already at work on this.
Looking forward to a new round of debates in the hallowed halls of our Parliament.